Flexible Working: A Possible Alternative

photo: courtesy of blog.halogensoftware.com

photo: courtesy of blog.halogensoftware.com

The concept of flexible working was borne out of the need to meet the demands of certain jobs/production schedules.
In recent times, its application has been expanded to cover such things as solving the challenges brought about by unemployment as well as to give options to those who are unable to meet the demands of the conventional working hours. In addition, the need to drive and support work-life balance/family friendly policies has also played a role in the popularity of the phenomenon.

Flexible working refers to working arrangements which allow employees to vary the days, hours or place in which work is to be performed. A variety of arrangements are available to employees whose job functions support such options. Shift working, part-time working, Job sharing, teleworking* and flexi-time* are a few examples.

My interest in flexible working arrangements (FWA) lie in its ability to provide an alternative for addressing the increasing levels of unemployment in the country. The ‘job sharing’ for instance, provides an avenue to employ multiple employees for a single job position. By breaking a job into distinct components/units, more opportunities are created for employment.

It is worth noting that this practice may be applied across a wide spectrum of industries. The financial services, oil and gas, manufacturing and public sector would find this approach quite useful. In addition to the above, occupational hazards arising from poorly managed work pressures, work overload and working long hours would be greatly minimized.

I understand that the feasibility of this idea may be debatable considering the extra training costs that may be borne by employers. Surely, my argument relies on the premise that the educational system would be relied upon to produce employable graduates. Their ability to adequately equip students with skills that are both relevant and practically applicable to the tasks on the job would greatly determine how achievable this proposition will be.

Another deterrent pertains to the possibility of a pay reduction (often associated with job sharing arrangements). The average employee would rather work longer than earn less working shorter hours. On the other hand, most employers would rather have a single employee earning a fixed sum (say ‘x’) than have 2 or 3 employees who share a single job demand ‘x’ each.

Correspondingly, the challenges attached to synchronizing the work done by different employees might prove daunting. This may just as easily be managed by specifying a particular day of the week when employees sharing the same job are expected to converge in order to share information, brainstorm, solve issues arising and possibly, tie together the loose ends that may have resulted from the division.

In my opinion, the culture of a people has a lot to do with how easily they will be willing to accept the concept of flexible working. In a country where part-time, shift-working or any other form outside of the regular contract is largely associated with lower status jobs. Where most forms of flexible working exclude employees from being eligible for certain benefits or health packages in my opinion will greatly discourage those who may desire/require such considerations.

It is worth noting that flexible working arrangements obtain in several economies: Germany, United Kingdom and New Zealand are a few. Consequently, I believe that any effort aimed at its wide application may prove inconsequential except relevant legislative backing is gained.

Implication for HR
Several job types stand to benefit from the concept of flexible working. Likewise, certain categories of staff will also find its adoption very relieving. The actively unemployed, the expecting mothers, single parents, employees living with some forms of disability, employees enrolled in one form of education or another will surely appreciate such reforms.

The essence of any HR department is to maximize the potential of its human capital. A big part of this entails fitting individuals rightly to jobs while ensuring they have the necessary tools to perform their tasks. It also involves eliminating to the barest minimum factors that would hinder optimum performance while taking into consideration, special needs of employees. In essence, flexible working (which involves scheduling work to suit employee preferences) is yet another method of getting the best from employees who alternatively wouldn’t have been productive working more conventional hours.

  • In support of this initiative, HR will be required to re-design jobs such that they possess independent, yet interlocking components. The preceding serves to eliminate duplicity of functions and at the same time support the accommodation of multiple employees on a single job.
  • Developing capabilities in-house to allow for the training of staff on a wide variety of subjects, skills and attitudes will also prove useful in managing training costs.
  • Lastly, the challenges/complexities associated with an increased staff strength will also demand that the HR function is adequately equipped and organized to handle such issues as on-boarding and employee integration, diversity and fairness, motivation and reward etc…

…Feel free to share your thoughts on the subject.

*Description of Terms
  1. Teleworking: working from home or other locations outside the workplace
  2. Flexi-time: the option of a 9am to 6pm work schedule instead of an 8am to 5pm or 7am to 4pm schedule